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Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke declares for NBA draft

UPDATED: Wed., April 17, 2019, 7:56 p.m.

Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke, who quickly became a fan favorite with his high-flying dunks and acrobatic blocked shots, has declared for the NBA draft.

Clarke made it official Wednesday via a GU release, two days after teammate Rui Hachimura declared for the draft. The two formed one the top frontcourts in the country and one of the best in Zags history.

“I transferred to GU to develop my game and learn as much as I could from the top coaching staff in the country,” Clarke said. “With their help, I am confident in the player I have become and I’m ready for the next step. My teammates, my brothers, I cannot thank them enough.”

Clarke posted strong numbers in two seasons at San Jose State before transferring to Gonzaga. The Phoenix native sat out one season under NCAA transfer rules, but spent the time working on his body and improving his game.

Clarke had a breakout junior season, averaging 16.9 points and a team-leading 8.6 rebounds. He swatted 117 shots, shattering the program’s single-season blocks record. He led the nation in field-goal percentage at 68.7, edging out Zion Williamson of Duke (68.0).

Clarke, who was named West Coast Conference Newcomer and Defender of the year, made the Wooden Award All-America team and was AP third-team All-American.

“What an unbelievable ascension he’s had from where he was when he came here to where he is now,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “It couldn’t happen to a better person. He’s such an easy guy to coach, just gives you maximum effort all the time. It’s hard to make a move like Rui did (coming from his native Japan) and like Brandon did when he transferred. I’m happy it’s turned out (well) for him.”

Clarke hasn’t determined his final status, according to the release. He is eligible to sign with an agent and go through the draft process, but must h terminate ties with the agent by May 29 if he plans on returning for his senior year.

Clarke seems to have a little more wiggle room, compared to Hachimura, regarding the possibility of returning. Hachimura is expected to sign with an agent, and there seems to be little question he plans to remain in the draft.

Clarke is projected generally in the 10-to-25 range of the first round in mock drafts, but there seems to be a wide range of opinions, with a few listing him in the second round.

The 6-foot-8, 215-pound Clarke has improved his shooting stroke, but only attempted 15 3-pointers last season. He hit nearly 70% of his free throws after making just 57% at San Jose State. Scouts like his athleticism and defensive versatility, but Clarke would probably be one of the smaller ‘4s’ if he lines up at power forward.

Few said Gonzaga’s staff assists players considering the draft by having discussions with NBA coaches and administrators “and people I really trust.”

“We want all of our guys to be the smartest guys in the draft and give them as much information, proper information,” Few said.

Clarke posted 36 points and five blocks in an 83-71 win over Baylor in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, joining 7-footers Shaquille O’Neal (LSU) and David Robinson (Navy) as the only players with at least 35 points and five blocks in a tournament game. Clarke also broke Adam Morrison’s school record for points in an NCAA Tournament game.

“These have been the best two years of my life,” Clarke said. “Lastly, I want to thank the best fans in the country, Zag Nation. I will always be proud to be a Zag.”

Junior forward Killian Tillie hasn’t announced if he will return for his senior season or test the NBA draft waters. Tillie was limited to 15 games by foot and ankle injuries last season, but he’s been a productive player when healthy.

The 6-10 Tillie averaged nearly 13 points and six rebounds as a starter on Gonzaga’s 2018 Sweet 16 team. He was a contributor off the bench when the 2017 Zags reached the national championship game.

Freshman forward Filip Petrusev scored in double figures in seven of Gonzaga’s first 13 games, but his playing time diminished when Tillie returned to the rotation. The 6-11 Serbian native averaged 6.5 points and 2.7 rebounds in 11.4 minutes per contest.

The Zags have taken steps to fortify the frontcourt with an incoming class that includes 6-11 Oumar Ballo, 6-10 Drew Timme, 6-10 Pavel Zakharov and 6-9 Anton Watson.

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